Bennie Thompson

Opinion: The Russians — and the Midterms — Are Coming
U.S. elections are vulnerable, and that needs to change

In November 2016, 139 million Americans cast their votes in the wake of a massive Russian cyber-enabled operation to influence the outcome of the presidential election.

The Kremlin spread disinformation through hundreds of thousands of social media posts. Russian agents hacked U.S. political organizations and selectively exposed sensitive information. Russia targeted voting systems in at least 21 states, seeking to infiltrate the networks of voting equipment vendors, political parties and at least one local election board.

Compassion Needed in Addressing Nation's Immigration Woes | Commentary

Each day, waves of children ranging from toddlers to teenagers flee terrible violence and economic desperation in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador and arrive in this country in search of safe haven. They are being sent alone, unaccompanied by their families. This fiscal year alone, Border Patrol agents have apprehended more than 50,000 unaccompanied children at our Southwest border, a sharp increase over previous fiscal years. The surge of unaccompanied minors is an acute humanitarian crisis.

Thompson: Nation Needs to Be Proactive on Cybersecurity

While some have tried to argue that any cybersecurity regulation of at-risk critical infrastructure networks would stifle private-sector innovation and growth, the message from the national security establishment is clear and unified: We must take proactive steps to safeguard the nation from the malicious cyberactivity that is draining our intellectual property, harming commerce and threatening the integrity of our infrastructure.

In fact, over the past few weeks, FBI Director Robert Mueller, former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and former National Intelligence Director Michael McConnell have gone on the record as saying that the threat to our government and critical infrastructure from cyberattacks is real and growing and that a legislative fix is sorely needed to keep pace and reform our country’s cybersecurity efforts.

Thompson: ANCs Should Be Held to Same 8(a) Standard

Given the current economic climate, participation in the Small Business Administration 8(a) small and disadvantaged business program can be the difference between success and failure for small, struggling businesses in communities all across America.

Unfortunately, many small or disadvantaged businesses owned by minorities, women and veterans are unable to fully participate in the SBA’s 8(a) program because they have been crowded out of the federal marketplace by the special carve-outs afforded Alaska Native Corporations that participate in the program. For example, awards to non-ANC 8(a) firms are capped at $3.5 million for services or $5.5 million for goods, yet they are uncapped for ANCs and often far surpass these amounts.

Thompson: Computers Present Security Challenge

Electric power is not only America’s economic lifeblood, but an essential element of our nation’s security. Businesses, chemical plants, banks, refineries, hospitals, water systems, grocery stores and military facilities all rely on electricity to operate. Our electric grid, in turn, increasingly relies on computer-based operating systems. Herein lies a unique homeland security challenge — how to protect the electric grid from failing, as a result of either intentional or unintentional events.

[IMGCAP(1)]Today’s electric grid is very similar to the system that existed in the early part of the 20th century, with one critical difference: Computers are in charge. Our grid is highly dependent on computer-based systems. These systems are used to monitor and control sensitive processes and physical functions. When they were originally created, they were closed to the outside. To increase efficiency and save money, operators began connecting these systems to corporate networks and the Internet. Unfortunately, these connections also expose these critical systems to potential attacks online. Specifically, our reliance on electric power and the vulnerability of our interconnected system makes the electric grid a prime target for an adversary who seeks to cause catastrophic harm to our country. In fact, there is some evidence, according to a recently released publication, that cyberspies have penetrated the U.S. electrical grid and left behind software programs that could be used to disrupt the system. These malicious programs could do anything from briefly interrupting power delivery to destroying our nation’s large electric generating units.

Chemical Plants Must Be Safe From Attack

It is a terrible fact of life after 9/11 that we now more fully understand the elements of a terrorist attack. It involves a weapon, a target and a terrorist. In London, Madrid, Islamabad, Mumbai and Bali, the elements were separate and distinct. In some cases, however, the weapon and the target could be one and the same.

While the protection of all critical national infrastructure is important, chemical plants represent a special subset of those assets. The chemical sector is a critical part of our nation’s economy, employing more than 1 million people and accounting for more than $550 billion in annual revenues. At the same time, many chemical facilities produce and maintain hazardous chemicals that if released as a result of a terrorist attack would cause significant harm to facility workers and the surrounding population.